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Democrats moving President Obama’s speech to Time Warner Cable Arena

By April Bethea and Mark Price
abethea@charlotteobserver.com

Poll

Did the Democratic Party make the right decision in moving President Obama's speech indoors?

CHARLOTTE, N.C. President Barack Obama will now deliver his acceptance speech Thursday at Time Warner Cable Arena after forecasts about severe weather led officials to move the event out of Bank of America Stadium.

The switch means the approximately 65,000 members of the public who received community credentials for the stadium event won’t be allowed to go inside the arena, which the DNC has said is holding about 15,000 for the convention.

Instead, the arena seats will be limited to delegates and convention officials, according to the Obama campaign.

Campaign officials promised a Thursday conference call between Obama and the 65,000 people no longer able to attend his speech. And they said they’re working on an event where the president would be able to meet with the credential holders before the election, though no date or location was announced.

On Wednesday, the Democratic National Convention Committee said officials had monitored weather forecasts in deciding whether to move the speech from the football stadium. With several reports predicting thunderstorms on Thursday, officials decided to relocate the event “to ensure the safety and security of our delegates and convention guests,” convention CEO Steve Kerrigan said in a news release.

The National Weather Service, who have been briefing convention organizers and others about forecasts this week, said the number of thunderstorms on Thursday could be fewer than what has hit the region in the past few days. But forecasts showed there was a slight, 2-to-5 percent chance of severe thunderstorms developing during the day that could produce either winds of at least 58 miles-per-hour or hail measuring at least one-inch in diameter.

Even if the storms don’t reach severe level, meteorologists said there still is a possibility for cloud-to-ground lightening.

Brent Colburn, Obama for America communications director, expressed sympathy with the community credential holders who will be affected.

He and other officials encouraged them to watch the live broadcast at home and hold block parties.

“We share their frustration and disappointment,” Colburn said, adding that he felt the campaign made the right decision at the time it decided to use the stadium.

“This isn’t a decision we wanted to make,” Colburn said. “It was a decision we felt we had to make.”

Time Warner Cable Arena has served as the host site for the first two days of DNC proceedings. But officials announced earlier this year that they would move the final night of the three-day convention to Bank of America Stadium. The larger venue, officials said, would allow more people to attend the nomination acceptance speech. Vice President Joe Biden also was expected to speak at the Thursday event.

Obama campaign officials had said they expected about 90,000 to attend the president’s speech at the football stadium. That figure included the 65,000 community credentials, along with about 21,000 delegates, party officials and others.

People who’d planned on attending the speeches said they were disappointed and frustrated. Thousands of people waited in lines, some camped overnight, to get a credential to see the speeches.

“I feel like I’ve been shut out of everything,” said Lesa Kastanas, of Charlotte. Kastanas took a day off work Tuesday to attend an uptown Planned Parenthood rally, but couldn’t get to it because protesters and police were blocking her way.

She was looking forward to attending the speech with her daughter, to being a part of history. Now, she says, “I feel like that kid looking through the knothole.”

“We need something for the rest of us -- those of us who don’t have shiny credentials,” she said. “Now I just feel like it’s in my city and I didn’t have a chance to do anything.”

Charlotte’s Mary Davis had signed up to volunteer at the speech to check credentials. She thinks the DNC faced “a lose-lose situation.” A thunderstorm could have presented serious safety issues, and pouring rain could have kept thousands away. But now, thousands of people will be disappointed and angry. “They’re just stuck,” she said.

Colburn, the Obama for America spokesman, said officials hope to keep as much as the original stadium program in tact as possible despite the move to the arena.

But Democratic officials admitted the change had tons of implications for local law enforcement, and meetings were ongoing. Among those implications were changes in security around uptown. Some street restrictions near the arena were expected to be lifted overnight as the new ones went in place by Bank of America Stadium.

Because of the venue change, road closures and restrictions planned to start late Wednesday won’t happen – meaning I-277 will remain open. Restrictions and closures currently in place will be extended through early Friday, federal law enforcement officials said.

Still unclear is the impact on local services including the Charlotte Area Transit System and Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools. School officials early Wednesday said they are waiting to hear about new security plans.

The district planned to dismiss three center-city schools – First Ward Creative Arts Academy, Metro School and Irwin Academic Center --early on Thursday to avoid traffic jams. Only First Ward was operating under an early-dismissal time on Tuesday and Wednesday.

CMS spokeswoman Tahira Stalberte said the district is still proceeding with the current plan because no new street closures have been announced yet on Wednesday. If that happens, she said the district will reassess its plans.

CATS had planned to reopen its transportation center on Trade Street, which is across the street from the arena, on Thursday after setting up a temporary one at Third and Mint streets.

A spokesman at an information center public officials set up to handle media requests said they were working to finalize information on how services could be affected.

Media organizations are among those affected by the venue change.

“There is something about the 2012 conventions that just seem to attract bad weather. But ironically storm clouds came to both conventions,” said Sam Feist, CNN’s Washington bureau chief.

Feist said he did not know how much money CNN spent setting up at Bank of America stadium.

“We obviously spent a lot of time and money putting a beautiful stage in the stadium that won’t be used,” he said.

Campaign officials also noted the stadium speech was also viewed as a “capacity building event” that would include voter registration opportunities.

The plan now is for those people to be emailed a phone number for a “massive conference call” with the president.

Democratic officials yesterday expressed concerns that Republicans would “turn the decision into a political attack.” However, they likened it to safety decisions the Republicans were forced to make during the passing of the Hurricane Issac during their convention a week ago.

On Wednesday, the Republican National Committee quickly reacted to the decision with an emailed statement to reporters.

“Enthusiasm for President Obama is so low that he’s being forced to downgrade his convention events left and right,” said RNC spokesman Matt Connelly. “First the DNC had to cancel their opening event at Charlotte Motor Speedway due to low enthusiasm, now President Obama is being forced to move his acceptance speech to a smaller venue just to avoid the embarrassment of speaking to an empty stadium. After four years of failure on the economy, it’s clear that Americans are looking for actual solutions, not another speech full of empty promises.”

Shortly after officials announced the move to the arena, construction crews were seen working at Bank of America Stadium on what were supposed to be the main stage and seating areas for the acceptance speech.

The floor seating appeared to be mostly in place while work was continuing on the main stage facade construction.

With heavy rain and thunderstorms crossing through the region the past few days, many had wondered if the weather would force officials to relocate the Thursday speeches. On Tuesday, DNCC officials confirmed they had been considering the arena as a backup spot.

Nan Robertson’s husband Geoff stood in line for seven hours to get tickets for him and his 16-year-old daughter to see the president’s speech. The family eventually ended up with three credentials, so all of them were planning on attending.

Now Robertson, 57, assumes she and her family won’t be able to attend.

“It is a disappointment, but I thought it was a fabulous idea to give people this kind of once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” she said Wednesday. “We are not in control of the weather. I certainly don’t hold the DNC responsible for anything. I hope they try it again sometime in another city.”

Susan Standish, who works at a biotech job in Charlotte, also planned to attend the event with her daughter, a Northwest School of the Arts senior who’s interested in politics and public policy. Standish emailed her daughter, Nora, Wednesday to give her the bad news. Her daughter’s response?

“It’s not printable,” she said.

She doesn’t understand why organizers didn’t consider earlier that they were taking a big chance with the weather.

Vonda Lee, who lives in Davidson, said she’ll try to participate in Obama’s conference call if she can. And she still plans to go to uptown Charlotte to watch his acceptance speech on television.

“This was a once-in-a- lifetime history-making situation,” she said. “I want to be a part of it.”

Robbie Akhere, a statewide Obama delegate from Mecklenburg County, said Tuesday she expects the president will get a rousing reception regardless of the venue. She called the arena an excellent backup choice.

“Some people think the president is God and can control the weather,” Akhere said. “But I think they’d understand” if the event was moved. She also has heard talk about some nearby locations offering live-stream viewing of the president’s speech in the event of a venue change.

On Wednesday, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., was informed of the venue change by reporters.

“Oh! You knew before me!” Pelosi said. “It’s rain, what can we do?”

“I think it would have been nice,” Pelosi added. “It was wonderful when he did it before. I’m sure there will be a makeup kind of visit to North Carolina where the president will speak to a large crowd…But there are some decisions that are made from a different place and whether it rains or not is not in the president’s control.”

Adam Bell, Victoria Guida, Jim Morrill, Franco Ordonez, David Puckett, Kerry Singe and Mark Washburn contributed

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